City leaders agreed Tuesday to accelerate plans for a second runway at Denton Enterprise Airport, with construction beginning in the fall and the landing strip opening as early as summer 2018.
The Texas Department of Transportation would pay for about $5.9 million of the $8.5 million project. The city would pay the remaining $2.6 million.
The city's transportation director, Mark Nelson, told the City Council during a work session Tuesday afternoon flights bound for DFW International Airport or Dallas Love Field can use Denton for relief when necessary. That designation helped make Denton's airport eligible for the state funding.
The Denton airport is the seventh busiest airport in Texas.
"We understand that quite a bit of it [airport traffic] is flight training," Nelson said.
U.S. Aviation Academy runs a flight school at Denton airport. TxDOT agreed to fund a second runway immediately to the west of the main runway at a level that would accommodate the flight school traffic.
The second runway would leave the main runway for faster, heavier traffic, Nelson said.
To receive project funding from TxDOT, the city must match at least $1.6 million, Nelson said.
However, if the city invested another $1 million, the runway could be built long enough and strong enough to handle more commercial and private flights, rather than just flight school traffic, Nelson said.
Council members agreed to the staff's recommendation to build the larger runway. Nelson expected the final design of the runway to take about a month once the city receives the go-ahead from TxDOT. Construction would begin in October.
Mayor Chris Watts reminded the staff he wants to see a financial report from the airport in the near future.
The airport is ostensibly self-funded. In other words, its business activities are supposed to cover airport expenses. New hangar space and other recent improvements at the airport were financed. Denton Enterprise Airport has about $5.5 million in principal and interest payments through 2034.
Officials planned to use royalty income from gas wells at the airport to make debt payments until business activity at the airport grew enough to take over. However, royalty income dropped faster and business activity grew slower than planned.
This year's budget shows the taxpayers covering the $466,000 debt payment for 2017. The city's finance staff projected payments of about $460,000 per year for the next two years, before the city issues another $3.56 million in debt to pay for the runway expansion.
"I want to make sure we get that analysis as we move forward," Watts said. "If the city is going to start paying the debt service, we need to get some clarity on that."
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.